Skating At The Old Sanno Hotel

Do you know what? It's really been quite a little while since we've packed up our skate bags and set the time machine's location to Japan and I think today is as good a time as any! Back in April of 2015 when I first blogged about early Japanese skating history, there was one very fascinating footnote that I didn't even get to touch on that I think deserves a blog of its own... and that story is of the old Sanno Hotel in Tokyo.

Completed in 1932, the old Sanno actually had a very short life as a hotel. Located in Tokyo's Akasaka district within walking distance of the parliament and government offices, it was one of the city's very few Western style hotels. In its heyday in the thirties, the Sanno boasted one of the finest wine cellars in Asia, an impressive restaurant, huge banquets and Tokyo's first swimming pool. However, the hotel's biggest claim to fame was the fact that it housed Japan's very first indoor skating rink... in its basement!

The rink was installed by the hotel's first manager Yasushi Nakaya, who lived in Oregon for twelve years before returning to Japan to get in the hotel business. A November 15, 1983 article in the "Observer-Reporter" tells us that basement rink was "a popular attraction until the military confiscated the air compressor for scrap metal. A rusting ammonia tank for making ice is still there, next to the 'Gay '90s Room'." The venue played host to the Japanese Championships in 1933, which were won by Toshikazu Katayama.

 In 1936, there was an incident known as the 'ni-ni-roku' or '2-26' where extremist young officers of the Imperial Army's garrison in Tokyo seized the Sanno and made it their command post in an attempt to overthrow the civilian government of Japan. These rebels killed Japan's finance minister, a former prime minister and a dozen other government leaders before surrendering three days later to Emperor Hirohito, who they had been revolting against in the first place. Wartime air raids burned down the hotel's wooden annex and the geisha house favoured by Japanese politicians next door. During World War II, it became a base for Japanese intelligence where radio propaganda programs (Tokyo Rose anyone?) were broadcast from Room 426. The hotel was gutted by Allied bombing and occupied by the U.S. military in 1945. After a two year clean-up process, it was turned into a hotel for officers, U.S. Embassy officials and their families.

Although the old Sanno shut its doors in the nineties taking the remains of Japan's first indoor ice rink with it, the U.S. Navy operates The New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo's Azabu residential area... so if you feel like taking a trek to Tokyo and learning a little more about the fascinating Sanno's place in skating history, you know where to go!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":